Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD 6.01%) has made a lot of headlines in 2022. Formed from a merger between WarnerMedia and Discovery that was completed in April, the company quickly garnered attention for its $3 billion cost-cutting strategy and the subsequent job cuts that followed.
There's also been a significant brouhaha over Warner's decision to shutter productions in parts of Europe and to shelve a handful of movies for its streaming platform HBO Max -- most notably Batgirl. And now, the company's been grabbing column inches because of its move to book a significant write-down for the current quarter.
In more promising news, the company has also named two prominent figures to head its DC movie division. There's a lot to unpack here, but let's break down what it all means for the company and its stock.
The price of restructuring
Warner Bros. Discovery has filed a notice with the SEC, saying that it expects to spend as much as $3.2 billion to $4.3 billion to restructure its operations. The costs include $800 million to $1.1 billion in charges for severance payouts, relocation fees, and more. The company has also priced in $400 million to $700 million for contract terminations and facilities reorganization.
Perhaps the most notable line in the filing is the admission that Warner Bros. Discovery will take a $2 billion to $2.5 billion pre-tax write-down for its revised content strategy. Essentially, the company is spending billions of dollars to toss out shows and movies it had previously started.
For Warner Bros. Discovery investors, there were perhaps the contours of a silver lining in the SEC filing in that the company estimates it has already paid out about 70% of the $3.2 to $4.3 billion figure. The rest will be accounted for through the end of fiscal 2024.
Taking another swing at Marvel
A day after disclosing the bruising figures above, Warner Bros. Discovery came soaring back with news about its superhero content operation; the company named film producer Peter Safran and acclaimed director James Gunn as co-CEOs of DC Studios, the newly formed DC shows and movies subsidiary that replaces DC Films.
For the uninitiated, Safran has overseen many big-budget movies, including DC Extended Universe (DCEU) entries Aquaman and Shazam, as well as their upcoming sequels. Safran has also served as a producer on The Suicide Squad -- the 2021 DCEU antihero sequel written and directed by Gunn. In their new roles, Safran will handle DC Studio's business and production operations while Gunn will be the creative mind behind the venture -- effectively shepherding the long-term direction of the DCEU.
Having a head at the top of a sprawling superhero franchise is something that Walt Disney has enjoyed for sometime. Kevin Feige, president of Disney's Marvel Studios, has been involved with its projects since 2000 and helped to bring the wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) into being with 2008's Iron Man. In the years since, MCU movies have generated billions at the box office, including Avengers: Endgame in 2019 -- its most successful one -- which made $2.8 billion globally. By contrast, the highest-grossing DCEU movie was 2018's Aquaman, which generated $1.1 billion.
For market-watchers, the positioning of Gunn in such a central role is a clear signal that, under Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery believes it can unlock even more value from its DC superheroes. And considering Gunn is also a veteran of the MCU (he directed Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy), Warner Bros. Discovery is also getting someone who has inside knowledge of how a successful interconnected universe is put together.
With Warner Bros. Discovery stock struggling this year, investors may well have questioned the company's long-term prospects. But with restructuring expenses now priced in and a clearer vision for its DC content coming into relief, there are signs things may improve over time. Of course, Warner Bros. Discovery will carry the previously mentioned expenses for a while yet, and the Safran-Gunn partnership will take time to manifest its strategy, but for patient investors, there could be rewards ahead.